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For Heart Failure Awareness Week, Dr Clare Taylor, Heart Failure team co-lead, proposes using the acronym ‘BEAT’ as a way to recognise the symptoms of heart failure.

Graphic about beating heart failure from Pumping Marvellous charity. © Pumping Marvellous
Let's BEAT Heart Failure Together - from the Pumping Marvellous campaign.

It is Heart Failure Awareness Week! Heart failure does not receive the same airtime as some other serious health conditions with the result that patients and the public are often unaware of the key symptoms and potential treatments. So, here is a short blog about heart failure including our recent research paper which proposes a novel approach to symptom recognition.

Heart failure affects around a million people in the UK and accounts for 3-4% of NHS expenditure. It is more common in older people - mean age at diagnosis is 76 years – but can affect all ages. Symptoms include breathlessness, tiredness, and leg swelling. The term ‘heart failure’ itself is both alarming and misleading. When we interviewed patients with a new diagnosis, they described how frightened they were on being told they had heart failure with many thinking that they were about to die.

Thankfully, our survival analysis published in the BMJ showed this was not the case and, whilst the prognosis for heart failure remains poor, it is not the death sentence that the term implies. Evidence from clinical trials has shown that heart failure is a treatable condition with an increasing number of therapies available which can improve quality of life and prolong survival.

The research work of the department’s Heart Failure team focuses on the diagnosis and management of heart failure in primary care. A diagnosis is key to allow effective treatment and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends a natriuretic peptide blood test in primary care for anyone presenting with heart failure symptoms. However, currently 80% of patients are admitted to hospital as an emergency to receive a first heart failure diagnosis.

In our recent paper with the patient-led charity the Pumping Marvellous Foundation, published in BJGP Open, we describe the challenges which exist for both patients and GPs in making a diagnosis and suggest a new way to increase recognition of heart failure symptoms.

Inspired by FAST, the well-known acronym used to identify symptoms of stroke, we propose BEAT: Breathless, Exhausted, Ankle swelling, Time for a simple blood test.

We hope BEAT will help to raise awareness amongst patients and the public of the key symptoms of heart failure, and prompt GPs to consider the diagnosis and offer natriuretic peptide testing.

Read the full paper here: FASTer diagnosis: Time to BEAT heart failure | BJGP Open

Opinions expressed are those of the author/s and not of the University of Oxford. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.

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